Heart and Mind on Relationship.

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My mind says I’m lonely. My heart disagrees, or at least it disagrees with the cause. Loneliness as a concept is hard to hold on to. Its letters are vapor. As I try to grasp them they slip through my fingers. I envelop them instead in a sheet as I pull them from my head into my heart.

“But look,” Heart objects. “There are all these strong connections that reach out to those who are far away. If I hurt, I hurt for lack of closeness to those I already love. It is not for want of new relationships that I suffer, but because I am missing the friends I already have scattered all over the world.”

“But there is no easy solution to that loneliness,” replies Mind. “Those relationships are of course important, and we can work to keep them, but none of them hold the possibility of being here now. Don’t you long for connection that is more consistently close?” There is a pause, and then she quietly adds: “Or are you scared?”

My eyes well with tears as the Heart pulses with emotion. “Of course I’m scared! I’m scared of not finding it. And I’m equally scared of finding it and losing it, or worse, messing up the order in my life because the attachment is too strong or too messy. Are we even meant to have more than a few of these attachments? What if we have met our limit already? If the connections I have are all I will ever have, shouldn’t we cling to them?”

“It is not healthy to cling,” Mind gently reminds. “We have learned that much at least. It may awaken emotion, but it is painful emotion and it is selfish. It does not show value to the personhood of those to whom we cling. No, we must not cling. And have we reached our limit? The only way to know is to remain open to finding new connections. If there is but one soul here that beats on the same wavelength as you, I intend to do my best to find it for you.”

“Ah,” Heart responds. “But there may not be even one.” (The words are not said with malice, but with gentleness and caution.) “If I am to join you in this venture, you must hold this intention as loosely as you ask me to hold my connections. Let us find peace in the journey, remaining open, yet not desperate.”

Transition + Anxiety

movingWe moved! This was the culmination of months of job search, impatient waiting, packing, finding a house and so many things that added increasing amounts of stress into our life. The act of moving was the final piece. In some ways it feels like we can breathe again now. All that we have been working for has now shifted into place.

But . . . we moved. All that I had known and became accustomed to (and yes, that even includes the stress and discomfort of waiting) has changed. While I am breathing more easily now and feeling the stress lift from my shoulders, I am not comfortable. One of the triggers of my anxiety is transition. I sometimes forget how much I rely on simple familiarity to help me maintain a sense of safety. To wake in a new room, though exciting, is also unsettling to me. Setting up a new house is a chance to start fresh, organize and clean up the cluttered aspects of our house and life. But in the midst of the accumulating order, I lose the comfort of the disorder. I see hugely positive changes in our family’s emotional landscape, like my husband’s rising hope, and yet I sense the loss of the difficult emotions I had become accustomed to. I don’t grieve the loss of those hard things or regret the chance to set things up fresh and new, I just feel unanchored.

I’m trying to put it into words because I don’t think I can be the only one who struggles with this weird discomfort even in the midst of positive change. I may not have liked the clutter, I may have sworn that I wanted things to be different, yet I am so good at fitting into spaces without making waves that I can get attached to almost anything, no matter how messy. I think a portion of this has to do with my personality. Maybe it is my enneagram 2ishness, the fact that I identify so strongly in my relationships to others. I like to feel needed, and so I unconsciously start to build my identity around the ways in which I am needed. And so when that shifts, when people start to need me less, or in different ways, my mind screams out in panic, afraid that I am also losing core pieces of who I am. I think what is keeping me from completely spiralling (in addition to the practice I’ve put in daily the last few months at mindfulness) is the knowledge of two apparently contradictory, yet complimentary truths: I take up important space no matter where I am AND I have my own set of needs that must be attended to. Does it seem selfish that my method of coping is to focus more on myself (both my strengths and my weaknesses)? I am convinced that this is the healthiest way for me to navigate change. Since I most naturally tend to focus on others, I need to intentionally shift that focus during times of stress in order not to get lost or spiral into unhealthy attention seeking habits (expecting others to fill me or define me).

Of course it isn’t only negative things that we lost in this change. For me there were lots of positive aspects of our life in VA that I am grieving. Most of those center around my job. The grief of leaving is strong, and I have been trying to give it space and honor it. On Saturday, while my husband worked hours and hours to load the U-Haul, I went to work for my last day. It was not a demanding day. Most of my tasks had already been handed over to others; my attention had been shifting towards other things for several weeks now. But there were good-byes. Sweet ones. I’m not very good with good-byes. They are incredibly important to me, but I get super awkward when actually faced with them. I’m never sure if I look cold and unfeeling outwardly while I inwardly treasure every hug and soak in every word. When the day came to a close, the emotional weight of the end of something settled on my heart. I climbed into my car and let some of the tears fall, looking forward to settling in to focus a little on this grief when I got home.

But there was no home. I returned to a half empty house, messy beyond recognition. There was still so much work to be done, and no comfortable space physically or emotionally. And so instead of attending to my grief carefully and gently, I attempted to set it aside and pour myself into the packing. Of course, not surprisingly, I became a bit of a grouch that evening. And when I went to bed it became apparent that my unprocessed emotions had pushed me over the tipping point. I had managed the stress of change and the discomfort of the unknown for so long, and yet, on this night, the last night in VA I fell completely apart. It took me hours to go to sleep. There were tears of grief that were shed amidst anxiety for all that still needed to be done before we could actually get on the road the next day. My stomach was physically distressed and my mood was sour.

It took time, but I eventually regained a level of composure outwardly and inwardly on Sunday. One of the pieces that helped me was listening to my 16 year old daughter preach a good-bye sermon at her church before we left. It was thoughtful, very mature, and incredibly vulnerable. And though I shed a few tears on her behalf as she shared her grief at leaving such an amazing community, it was her strength that reached the innermost recesses of my soul. Her strength reminded me of my own.

In order to find a place for myself in this new place, I must make room for it.

 

 

A Fall and my Relationship to Loneliness.

I fell down a set of concrete steps last week. And as the bruises start to surface and the scrapes reach that ugly scabby stage, I wonder if these outward wounds are a representation of something deep inside. 

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When I tumbled down those stairs, I landed at the bottom with my skirt up around my waist and as one of my friends would have delicately put it, tomorrow’s laundry in plain view. No one was around to see me in this undignified state, and I was deeply grateful for that. Yet, there was a certain loneliness I experienced as I arranged my skirts and gently picked myself up off the ground while trying to assess the damage. Though most people would have felt like intruders in that moment, there are a handful of people that I would have gladly fallen in front of in order to hear them ask me if I were ok as they rushed to my aid and made sure I was presentable and whole before helping me to my feet.

I posted later that day about the incident and I mentioned that my internal angst had manifested itself externally. I didn’t mean that flippantly. Lately, I find myself juggling the deep gratitude I hold for my own internal strength and the desire to have someone notice that I am not ok. Sometimes it feels like it has to be either/or. But, as was mentioned in a beautiful sermon I heard on Sunday, oftentimes it is actually both/and. It’s ok to want someone to help you up even while knowing you have the strength to do it yourself.

I feel like to a certain extent this has been my internal struggle for the past five years. Five years ago I began a journey of self-discovery. It included a major faith shift, huge life changes, and lots and lots of processing of who I have been, who I am now and  who I am becoming. It’s been a rewarding process. And I’ve grown really strong through it. The external circumstances that have been a part of this process have required that strength in order for me to survive them. In my husband’s words: I “have gently but firmly held things together against what often seemed like overwhelming odds.” When the therapist I had near the beginning of this process helped me realize what exactly I was doing, she warned me that this is a lonely process. There has been a lot of separation from those around me in order to discover who I am. Separation from family, from friends, and even in some ways from my husband. I am glad she told me that then, because it has helped my extroverted, community-longing self hang on through a time when past connections were slowly dissolving.

That separation has been hard for me. I hold wounds from the past 5 years that are still not completely healed. And I think most of the time, I keep those wounds to myself. Yes, I have held things together, but sometimes I don’t want to. Sometimes I want to let it all go and let myself fall just to see if anyone will be there to catch me.

Now, more than ever I want friends. I will never be done discovering myself, but I am hopeful that I am ready now to both reform connections and make new ones. I long for connections that are not shallow, but deep, real, raw and vulnerable. I am ready for a friend who not only can pick me up when I fall down, but who knows me well enough to notice that I’m in danger of falling before it even happens.

This is not to say that I haven’t had deep, strong connections the last five years. I have found very rewarding friendships over and over again. But our transient life the last few years has meant that what I feel I am missing is those friends that are physically present in my life. I look back with loneliness and grief on periods of time when that has been true for me, even if it was only for a short time. Even as I list out these relationships to myself, I realize how few of them actually reached a level of complete vulnerability and how very few of them have maintained it with distance. I long for intimacy, to have friends that I can feel completely safe and open with. My husband and I have discussed this often, our longing for friends and community, and our fear that it will not happen.

When I fell, I was on my way to have coffee with a friend, someone who had offered to have coffee with me should I ever need it, and I had finally taken her up on the offer. I walked shakily into that coffee shop and she bandaged up my elbow without a second thought. I know that there are people around who are ready to step up and stand beside me were I to give them the chance. But in this time of transition, I hold back from engaging too deeply, waiting rather impatiently for the next stage and hoping that it will bring with it a feeling of being settled and the courage and capacity to open myself up to be vulnerable with new people. 

Anchors

We live in a world in between. A past that we have known is soon coming to a close and an unknown future looms darkly ahead of us. How do you stay anchored in a space that has nothing to hold on to? Or is it an illusion, this idea that there is nothing certain here in this space?  

My past self whispers that here, even here, especially here, there is God. But God is not who I thought him to be. He is not an all powerful being whose unseen fingers are holding the pieces of my life, putting them together, building the puzzle of good things that have been promised me.

My head reminds me that I exist. That in the midst of uncertainty I still stand. I hold within me an image of myself that I wish I had the artistic ability to recreate. She stands holding out her hands with the palms up. In them she holds pain, pulsing, beautiful pain. The wind whips her pink hair behind her like a cape. Pure bright light bursts from some unseen point behind her, lighting up the pink streaks like flames, highlighting the beauty of her curves, the strength in her legs and arms. The pain seeps between her fingers, but she stands strong, holding it out as a sacrifice, her piercing blue eyes staring ahead into her future, not blindly, but with hope. There is a fierceness in me that will not give up. Is this enough to cling to?

My heart tells me that I cannot exist alone. It reminds me that I also hold love in those blue eyes because of those people who have stood within their gaze. It reminds me that I am anchored always by the invisible connections that extend from my chest reaching out to touch those who mean so much to me. It reminds me that my best words are written when I have felt those connections pulse about me. It reminds me of what I have always known, that life is not worth living without the fellow souls who live it with me. As I lie my head on my husband’s chest and link my fingers with his I wonder if this is my anchor. We live this unknown together. He knows perhaps more than anyone else the uncertainty that haunts my soul, because he shares it.

My feet remind me that they still long to dance. Any music that fills my head, my ears, my soul, finds its way to my feet and they dance. They teach me, remind me, that joy lives within my soul. Never has it been completely quenched, never has it been lost forever. Every dark night has ended in a sunrise. Every painful emotion has been linked inexplicably with deep, passionate, meaningful joy. Joy of discovery. Joy of friendship. Joy of love. Joy of beauty. Joy, unabashed, beautiful joy. This also anchors me. I have known enough of joy to know that it will continue to find me even in the darkest of places.

My hands remind me as I type these words that they create their best work when filled with pain. My arms are strong, they hold not only my pain, but many others’ as well. And in that work that I am called to do, creativity pulses through my fingers and I find ways to express myself. Words to paint a picture of the woman who lives within. I create in other ways too, make beautiful things to wear, but when the strongest passionate emotions fill me, it is not the sewing machine that I turn to, but the pencil. Words are my greatest passion, the thing I must do when there is nothing else left to do. Is this my anchor? The call to write, to pour myself out on to paper so that I am not lost inside myself?

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Each piece exists, and therefore each piece works with the others to anchor me. And in the interplay of the pieces together each piece gains even greater strength. A circle of energy surrounds me and allows me to survive when everything around me falls apart. It is the relationship of each piece to the others, the energy found in the connections, that speaks to me of God. If God exists, she is not out there somewhere laying a path ahead of me, but rather here inside, around, above, below and behind me. She is the source of the light behind me. She is the energy that connects souls together. She dances with me and feels the joy I feel. She pulses within my veins, bringing the words to the surface, rejoicing in the beauty I create. She is the love I feel, the hope I cling to, the energy in my dance, the strength in my arms. 

Pink = Passion

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This pink in my hair is more than just a fun experiment. It is a symbol. That doesn’t mean it isn’t also fun. 🙂 It most definitely is, and I am ok with that being what other people see when they look at me.

But for me it goes much deeper. When I look in the mirror and see these pink streaks, I am reminded of pieces of myself that are sometimes hidden. The pink actually symbolizes a lot of things for me and I’m not going to go into all of them right now, but I’d like to share about one piece of it that has become incredibly important to me right now. It is almost as if I knew that during this period of my life I would need the visible reminder of pink hair.

Pink is not practical. Pink is passion. Running deep within my soul I have discovered a woman who is strong, brave and a little bit wild. That woman is me, even though it seems easier somehow to label her as someone else. But that deep core piece of who I am, the one who makes choices based on passion rather than practicality, is the piece that has carried me through some of the most difficult years of adulthood. And I haven’t been merely surviving. Most of the time I’ve been thriving.

And as the work of the last five years seems to be all coming together, and everything feels like it’s about to burst at the seams, it is not practicality that is getting me through each day, but rather passion. In fact, practically speaking, things are pretty much a mess. The budget is all but forgotten. The house waffles between messy and barely passable. And all sorts of “practical” things are just pushed aside right now. My physical surroundings in some way mirror the internal jumble of things. John says this is a liminal space. A space between. We are nearing a threshold, about to step into a different future. We are nearly there, but not there yet. And as we hang out in this weird in between, uncomfortable space, we sometimes struggle to make it through the day to day stuff.

In particular right now the stress of everything, the unknown future, the endless to dos, the responsibilities I feel like I am shirking, the individual struggles of each of my children, and the need to constantly weigh different possible options in the never ending job search is getting to me. I feel as if I am walking along a precipice and one big gust of wind will knock me right over the edge. In fact, several times the last few days I actually did feel like I was falling. But then this passionate, no nonsense, crazy energy pushes its way forward and laughs in the face of danger. She not only walks the narrow path, but dances across it on her toes.

There is a piece of me that has always been ready for an adventure. There is a piece of me that has always made decisions based on gut and passion. I am relying on this piece to lead the way right now. And it is this piece that I am reminding myself to speak out of when in conversation with my husband. Because I do not want a safe and practical future. I want an adventure. I want a life filled with joy and passion. And I will fight hard to remind him to not settle, to remember that he married someone a little bit wild, who is not afraid to try something new, to risk it all with the hope that something amazing could possibly happen.

This pink in my hair is not all fun. It reminds me that I can do amazing things. And that, my friends, is a a dangerous and supremely wonderful truth.

Voices in my head.

The last two days I’ve been angry. Angry about a lot of things actually. My therapist has reminded me that anger is not wrong. Anger is a signal pointing out to us something important. I struggle to admit when I am angry because it doesn’t fit into the persona that I like to cultivate about who I am. I’m not an angry person. Therefore I am not angry. I’m frustrated, or a little emotional, or . . . No. I am angry.

After naming the anger, I am working on identifying what it is pointing to. Why am I angry? One of the most important things I learned from Dr. Bailey’s book Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline is that we are rarely, if ever, angry for the reason we think we are. “You are making me angry,” is said so often, but never, ever true. Anger is our stuff, it stems from our internalized messages or wounds that we have or insecurities or fear. If I am angry at you, it is never your fault. I might need to address something hurtful you said or did, but you didn’t make me angry. I got angry because I have an issue that I am working on.

So, why am I angry? I’m working on that. Some of the anger I can tell you where it comes from, some of it, I am not sure. I have a feeling that deep inside I know, but I’m hiding it even from myself because I’m ashamed of it. So, I’ll keep digging.

But even after recognizing the anger and identifying where it comes from, it is important to know what to do with it. Do we let it go? Do we speak up? Do we confront? Do we forgive? Anger is powerful. But that power does not have to be destructive. It can be constructive. So, for now, I wrote a poem. I took my anger and tried to give it a voice. There are wounds here, but also hope, hope that I can rise above those wounds and choose the non-violent path of peace and love.

 

I don’t need your voices in my head.

Don’t you know they already echo in the dark recesses of my soul?

Your expectations.

Who you think I’m supposed to be.

Don’t you realize that I step out of the box in order to dismantle it?

You tell me God loves me, but what I really want to know is, do you?

Even more importantly, do I?

Do I love myself?

Do I love you?

Can I experience the love of God without saying the name of God?

Can I be the love of God without your permission or approval?

Can I create a space in this world that is truly mine. 

Can I be who I am created to be, or do I have to be what I am told to be?

Your picture is not the only picture.

Your path is not the only path.

I wish to be free.

I wish to put on wings and fly beyond the words.

Maybe up there, above everything, it will all be clear. 

Maybe up there, I will see the energy and the spaces and the connections. 

Maybe up there I will see my space and know how to fill it well.

And I will see you and how you are connected to me.

I don’t need your voices in my head.

But maybe, if I truly saw you, touched you, felt you.

Who you are. 

I would understand your place and how it connects to mine.

And I would love you.

And there, and only there, in that love, do I want to find the face of God.

It’s a New Year. 2019.

When you tend to process things in writing and you also like to be vulnerable and post about such things publicly, you will find that when the New Year rolls around Facebook will present you with undeniable evidence that you tend to exhibit certain trends around this time of year. Healthy eating goals, exercise, hopeful schedule changes. I tend to reset around this time of year. This year, my reset has as much to do with attitude as with any of those things. And as with all of those intentions, this one will also need to be revisited throughout the year to maintain.

My husband has a birthday at the end of December. It is, without a doubt, possibly one of the worst times to have a birthday. Right smack between Christmas and New Year’s, his expectations are somewhat low for a special day devoted to marking his start of a new year. This year we had a communication failure that ended up in him having a pretty lousy day. This coupled with the depression that was already quite low, meant the days leading up to New Year’s Day were quite hard.

John’s birthday is the 30th. On New Year’s Even I woke up without hope. It was so hard to envision any sort of future as I look into a year that will have to include a lot of change. We can’t just sit back and maintain the status quo. It isn’t that the status quo is that great right now anyway. The last year has been rough. There are lots of positive highlights, but just as many, if not more, really sucky things. And right now, even though we are technically in the middle of a job search for a priest position starting this summer, there are days I cannot picture a future at all.

I wrote the following words in my journal that morning: “This year is hard to hold hope. There is so much unknown. I can see clearly the pain that lies ahead. I want to be able to face it with courage, to remind myself that the pain is the shadow, which means there must also be light. But right now I am afraid. I do not know how much will be asked of me this coming year. Will I have the strength to meet it?”

Along with the fear that I was feeling, I also recognized anger. Anger at circumstances and situations that have robbed me of things. And in my journal I allowed myself to express those things. But afterwards I wrote gentle words of encouragement to myself, ending with “It’s ok to be angry. But what you do with it matters.”

That night, we lit a fire in the fireplace and gathered around it. Being all together as a family is important, but I’m going to be very real with you and admit that it is hard right now. The kids ages and all the stress that we have all internalized the last few years mean that peace and calm are never long-lived, and even meaningful connection is punctuated by frustration, tears, and misunderstanding. So, it is important to focus not on the negative parts of that night, but the positive. The light reflecting off my children’s faces. Their smiles. Their laughter. Seth had written a letter to Emma and had asked if he could put it in the fire to let the message go up to her in the smoke. So, we lit that fire, and all together, we watched the note burn and crumble and the smoke rise. This was true sacrament. 

I asked my kids what their favorite memories of the year had been and I asked them what their hopes for the new year were. Some answers were expected, some took me by surprise. All showed my kids deep inner selves.

After everyone but Elise, John, and I had gone to bed, we sat and talked. We laughed and teased. Regrets were shared. Hopes and creative ideas for the future were discussed. Eventually Elise also retired and John and I sat and dreamed together. We painted a picture of what life could be like this year. We talked about job opportunities and we talked about logistics. I don’t know if the specific plans we made will actually come to be as obviously we don’t yet know where he will get job offers to, but what we envisioned was hopeful and exciting to the both of us and that was something that I hadn’t felt in awhile.

I woke the morning of January 1, 2019 full of hope. A song by George Ezra ran through my head:

“If it’s a new day,

Why don’t we invent a new world to explore?

Why don’t we create a moment to remember

In five years?

Winner’s just a word,

Loser’s just one too.

Oh, forever dreaming

Lullaby.”

 

The song is called “Only a Human” and the chorus goes like this:

“You can run, you can jump

Might fuck it up

But you can’t blame yourself

No, you’re just human

Come on, come on

No, you can’t blame yourself

You’re just human.”

This is my song for the year. I step forward choosing hope. I will take risks this year. Risks that open up possibilities for a healthy future for me and my family. But I will also hold gentleness. Gentleness for myself and for others when things inevitably fall apart. Because life is not perfect. In the light, there is pain. In the shadow of joy, sorrow lives. I choose it all because it is beautiful only in its wholeness.newyearseve2018